Absolute’s ‘Blood Brothers’ make old tale fresh again

January 20, 2019

“Blood Brothers” is an age-old tale, artfully told.

The Absolute Theatre production of Willy Russell’s musical, which opened Thursday, takes what could be predictable and trite, and makes it attractive and entertaining.

The play is about twin brothers, separated at birth — a device used almost since the first day stories were told by the cave men. The boys grow up as best of friends, never knowing they’re brothers. Then, just before tragedy hits, they find out the truth.

How many musicals end up with two main characters dead and stay popular for decades? That’s the case of “Blood Brothers,” which won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical and ran for 24 years in London’s West End.

The Absolute production, of course, won’t play that long, but that doesn’t diminish the enjoyment it offers.

Director Kathy Keech has found actors and singers, who, backed by a unobtrusive but skillful small orchestra, deliver more than what might be expected.

Absolute co-founder James Douglass takes the stage as the rather sinister narrator — plus other characters that conversely demonstrate his comedic skills. And see if you agree that Douglass, with his recurring song “The Devil’s Got Your Number,” could have been singer in a rock band.

Eli Hansen, still a relative newcomer to the stage (this is only his fourth show), and Lucas Simonson, making his Absolute debut, are the brothers, Mickey and Eddie, respectively. Hansen’s rough-hewn Mickey fits the role, while Simonson’s Eddie is much more refined. The contrast in styles is fun to watch.

Stef Stafford shines in the role of the boys’ long-suffering birth mother, Mrs. Johnstone, while Rebecca Sands, who plays posh so well, is Eddie’s adoptive mother. Emily Whitcomb is Linda, the sweet girl who brings the boys together and eventually pulls them apart.

Also in this sharp cast are Peter Amendolar, Brian Bedard, Susanna Spencer and Matthew Chew, all playing a variety of characters. The song “Kids’ Game” gives the entire gang a chance to shine.

What’s especially entrancing is the musical score. In particular, music director Catherine Davis makes use of keyboards by Jon Davis and Carol Engel, to accentuate the more delicate melodies.

One example of this lovely touch is “Long Sunday Afternoon/My Friend,” sung by Eddie and Mickey as boys.

As we said, this is an age-old tale, which means parts of it are quite stale. But Absolute has found a way to make “Blood Brothers,” which seemingly everyone has seen at least once, feel fresh all over again.

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